This article was reprinted courtesy of MotorWatch, a nonprofit organization that aims to provide a forum for the exchange of consumer and technical information concerning transportation and safety. To learn more, visit www.motorwatch.com.
There are a number of reasons to store a vehicle, i.e. taking a long vacation; being transferred overseas; or to preserve an old “classic.” If you need to store your vehicle for a few months or even years, here are recommended procedures for protecting your investment. This advice, carefully followed, will keep your vehicle in top condition until you need it again.
We have broken down the storage into three stages:
Stage I — short term, storage for up to three months; Stage II — as long as a year; or Stage III — indefinitely. These recommendations are useful if you are storing anything operated by an internal combustion motor, such as a lawn tractor or snow blower.
Make a record of the items which have been carried out so they can be undone when you want to restore the vehicle back to operational condition. Place a copy of what has been done on the inside of the driver's windshield, insuring someone will see what to do to restore vehicle to operational condition. For restoring back to running condition after Stages II or III: make sure the coolant gets diluted, the fuel is replaced with fresh and the brake fluid is flushed.
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Tips for short term vehicle storage, for up to 3 months.
- Top off the gas tank. A full tank will form less moisture condensation.
- Air up the tires, over inflating them by 2-5 PSI to compensate for air loss.
- Change the oil and filter. Old lubricants become acidic and will etch the soft surfaces of the crank, rod, or cam bearings, so it is essential to store the motor with a fill of fresh oil. Once fresh oil is installed, be sure to run it long enough to circulate the fresh oil so that it will replace the old oil. If possible, fill with polyolester oil (e.g. Redline) because this type of lubricant has an affinity to iron and will bond to the cylinder walls keeping them coated which prevents the metal from oxidizing and rusting.
- Cover the vehicle with a high quality car cover or garage it, if possible. Note: Using a waterproof cover can trap moisture between the cover and vehicle causing damage to the paint.
- Do not set the parking brake. Use wheel chocks to keep it in place.
- Every 2-4 weeks:
- Start the engine and run it at a fast idle until the engine warms up enough for the oil to be hot to the touch. Note: Run it long enough for the exhaust system to become hot because moisture collects in the muffler and pipes, causing rust.
- Drive the vehicle long enough to heat up the exhaust system and dry it out. Tip: Drill a 1/32 inch hole in the lowest part of the muffler to allow the condensation to drain out.
- While the engine is running, shift the transmission through all the gears. Drive the vehicle a short distance (25 feet) to lubricate transmission and axle gears.
- Operate the A/C (or defroster) for 10 minutes to lubricate the compressor seals.
Vehicle storage for up to one year. Also include all applicable items described in Stage I storage.
- Store the vehicle indoors out of the rain, snow, ice, freezing or acid rain, large temperature variances and out of sunlight to protect it from the sun’s UV rays. Use a car cover or rent a storage garage. Make sure the cover is form-fitting, soft and breathable, so it won’t flap against the paint and damage it or trap moisture underneath. The cover will keep dust from settling on your vehicle, will keep kids from playing on it and animals from scratching it. The price of a high quality cover is money well spent. If storing inside, make sure the cover is designed for indoor storage. Best: Autochic.com.
- If the vehicle is parked outside:
- Seal off the HVAC intake duct with a piece of plastic to keep leaves out.
- If the vehicle is parked on the ground, put plastic under it to keep ground moisture from rising up into it.
- Remove the wiper blades and place them on the dashboard.
- If the vehicle is in the sunlight, cover the seats and dash with old blankets. Place sunshades or cardboard in the windows to block the sunlight.
- Protect the tires from direct sunlight. Rubber is sensitive to ultraviolet light and prolonged exposure to UV light will cause tires to crack and split (dry rot) and cause premature tire failure.
- Thoroughly clean the vehicle and have it detailed, if possible. Be sure to wash the undercarriage and fender wells, removing all traces of road salt, mud and road contamination. Note: When washing, exercise care if using a high power pressure sprayer on the undercarriage and frame. Water pressure from the sprayer wand can force soap and water through lubrication seals. These seals are designed to hold lubricant and are not able to withstand high pressure spray. If detergent is used, it must be thoroughly rinsed off because detergent is caustic and can damage plastic and rubber parts.
- Flush the brake fluid if it is over one year old. On older vehicles (non-ABS), install DOT 5 silicone brake fluid— which requires no periodic changing.
- Change the transmission/transaxle fluid if it is more than 2 years old or has more than 36,000 miles on it.
- Install the proper type of coolant for the application mixed 50% with distilled water. Distilled water is a must as tap water contains minerals which cause scale buildup. If this is a hardship, use a cooling system corrosioninhibiting additive. Don’t use recycled coolant as it contains minerals.
- Disconnect the battery. When it is not being used on a regular basis, a battery will gradually self-discharge. Attach a float charger, battery tender, or smart charger to the battery. These chargers turns on and off as needed and won’t overcharge the battery. Best: Install an Odyssey battery, which will not self discharge and can be stored for up to 2 years without recharging. Note: Some high-end cars (e.g. BMW, MBZ) can lose their computer programming if left without power for extended periods and will need the battery to be kept connected to a battery charger.
- Clean the leather, plastic, or vinyl interior and then protect it with a silicone conditioner.
- Dry out the interior of the vehicle using a dehumidifier or a 100 watt light bulb. If using a car cover, crack the windows at the top to let the interior breathe and prevent a musty smell from developing inside.
- Apply a fresh coat of wax to the paint. Chrome and stainless steel exterior parts should be left coated with a thick layer of carnauba car wax.
- Coat the door, hood and trunk rubber weather-stripping with silicone spray.
- Lubricate the key operated mechanism of the door locks with a dry graphite-based cable lube (e.g. Dri- Slide).
- Lubricate all latches and hinges with lithium spray lube grease. Important: Keep oil and solvents off all rubber parts. Spray grease on all linkages, cable levers and clevis pins on the underside of the vehicle.
- Gas engines: Drain the gas tank and run the engine until almost all of the fuel is used up. Completely draining the tank doesn’t prevent varnish formation as some fuel is left behind in the fuel system. After siphoning/draining as much gas as you can, add a gallon of white gas (e.g. Coleman fuel) and run the engine for a few minutes to circulate the white gas. White gas evaporates without leaving a residue. If the tank can’t be drained, fill it all the way to the top and use a fuel stabilizer (e.g. STA-BIL). A full tank prevents water condensation from forming in the tank and causing corrosion. Run the engine for a few minutes for the treated gas to circulate throughout the fuel system.
- Diesel engines: Fill the tank to the top and add a diesel fuel biocide (e.g. Fire Prep 1000) to prevent microbes from growing in the fuel tank. Run engine for a few minutes to get treated fuel throughout the system.
- Place rodent poison inside and under the hood to prevent infestation. Best poison: Ramik. Divide a pound of mothballs into 3 equal parts and place them in the trunk, passenger cabin and under the hood. Put the mothballs inside of old socks to make it easy to remove.
- Plug up the engine intake duct and the exhaust pipe with steel wool to keep rodents from building nests inside.
- Put the vehicle on jack stands to take the weight off the tires or roll the vehicle forward or back every few months to prevent flat spots on the tires. Note: If the stands are on asphalt, place the stands on plywood to prevent them from sinking over time.
Storage for more than a year (indefinitely). Also include all applicable items described in Stage I and Stage II Storage
- Remove the spark plugs and squirt a tablespoon of motor oil (Redline is best) into each cylinder. Crank the engine over to distribute the oil onto the cylinder walls and reinstall the spark plugs. If this is a hardship, Spray STA-BIL Fogging Oil into the air intake with the engine running until the engine stalls. Fogging Oil penetrates deep into the engine, coating parts with a protective layer of anticorrosive compound that also lubricates the piston at start up next spring preventing cylinder scuffing.
- If the vehicle has V-belts, loosen them.
- Remove the battery from the vehicle.
- If the vehicle isn’t under a cover, place moisture absorption tubs or desiccant tubes in vehicle interior and trunk to prevent mold and mildew growth.
- Drain and refill the cooling system with the proper type of coolant for the application, using 100% coolant. Do not add any water.
- Seal the transmission vent tube or air vent with duct tape. Do the same for the differential.
- Using a can of spray lithium grease, coat all metal parts of the chassis (springs, suspension, and chassis).
- Use a pedal jack or cut a stick to the proper length to press on the brake pedal a small amount. This will cover up the compensating port in the master cylinder, preventing moisture from getting to the wheel cylinders and/or calipers. Back off on the drum brake adjusters until the shoes aren’t touching the drum.
- Install corrosion-proof brake calipers (e.g. NAPA Total Eclipse) and coat the brake rotors and brake drums with rust preventative (e.g. POR-15 Metal Prep) to preserve them.
- Jack up the vehicle and place jack stands under the body so the springs can hang free (uncompressed) and the tires won’t develop flat spots.
- Deflate the tires and cover them to protect from sunlight.
The following MTC members helped with this article: Dan Lavalley, Mike Miller, Robert Wenzlaff.
Original version printed in the Nutz and Boltz Newzletter Feb. 1992.